latest caveon story

Here’s my story from Sunday’s front page:

The list of schools suspected of cheating is longer than Texas education officials have reported — and those officials say they aren’t interested in tracking down the latest suspects.

A Dallas Morning News analysis has found that at least 167 unidentified schools were flagged as potential cheaters by Caveon, the company Texas hired to hunt for TAKS cheaters. That’s in addition to the 442 schools named by state officials. None of the other schools have been notified that they are on the list.

Texas Education Agency officials say they don’t know which schools they are — and they have no plans to find out.

“The only list of schools we have is the list that has been made public,” said TEA spokeswoman Suzanne Marchman. “That’s the list we plan to work with.”

Superintendents with schools that have been named have complained that the TEA hasn’t given them all the information they need to investigate Caveon’s findings. But at least they know their scores are suspicious.

“That is so grossly unfair,” said Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers. “If you’re going to accuse someone of cheating, look them in the eye and do it.”

And there was a sidebar, too.

MP3 Monday: July 24, 2006

This week’s MP3 Monday is all about punk rock. Not about the music itself, per se, but the answer to the question: “What, exactly, were they rebelling against?” After all, Johnny Rotten was famously pulled into the Sex Pistols when proto-svengali Malcolm McLaren spotted him wearing a Pink Floyd t-shirt with the words “I hate” scrawled in felt-tip pen above the logo.
In other words, it’s a gimmick to post some ’70s classic rock — particularly its most overproduced and overambitious phyla. As always, songs will stay on the server for one week’s time.
Tiny Dancer” by Elton John. From the album Madman Across the Water (1971).
For people my age, it’s easy to think of Elton John as a punchline — as that garish old guy with the toupee, the one who only makes headlines when he hugs Eminem or sings sappy ballads at the funerals of princesses. And sure, not much of what he’s done in, say, my lifetime has been worthy of much attention. But the early Elton — that’s good stuff.
Still, I bet Johnny Rotten didn’t like it.
Here’s the song’s most recent pop-culture moment — one of the best scenes in Almost Famous, a movie I sometimes think I’m the only person who liked.

There’s also a version of Elton singing the song on The Old Grey Whistle Test.
Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac. From the album Rumours (1977).
Honestly, I don’t have much to say about Fleetwood Mac. I find most of their stuff kinda grating — and Stevie Nicks, well, I could do without Stevie Nicks. But Lindsay Buckingham knows his way around a riff, and this is a bit of propulsive fun you’ve heard 10,000 times before.
If I remember their Behind the Music correctly, around this time, 94 of Fleetwood Mac’s 173 members were having affairs with each other behind their other’s back.

Goodbye Stranger” by Supertramp. From the album Breakfast in America (1979).
Technically, this didn’t come out until after punk broke, but come on — this is exactly what 1977 London wanted to smash into little bits.
Supertramp was all about concept albums, falsettos, prog qua prog, and a tone best described as fey. And they dressed like a Band of Christs:

Mr. Blue Sky” by Electric Light Orchestra. From the album Out of the Blue (1977).
The first time I ever heard of ELO was when I was about 10, reading William Poundstone’s Big Secrets — an absolutely perfect book for the young nerdy boy in your life, by the way. It had a section on backward messages in rock songs — you know, Satan’s work.
Anyway, it mentioned that an ELO song named “Eldorado” allegedly included the message: “He is the nasty one / Christ, you’re infernal / It is said we’re dead men / Everyone who has the mark will live.” (Turns out it doesn’t. See, kids, these were the things your grandparents were worried about before they had MySpace to panic over.)
Did you know William Poundstone records his dreams in a blog? Or that he has a whole weirdly fascinating web site that features too much Futura Condensed? O, sweet mystery of life.

Industrial Military Complex Hex” by The Steve Miller Band. From the album Number 5 (1970).
I went to high school with a guy named Steve Miller. He was a year below me, and he had a band. Jokes necessarily followed.
Dallas music trivia: Steve Miller went to St. Mark’s School, the hoity-toitiest all-boys private school in the area. So did Boz Scaggs, Tommy Lee Jones, and Rhett Miller of the Old ’97s. Of those four, I’d say the Millers (unrelated, to my knowledge) fit the St. Mark’s image best. Why he’s singing about the military-industrial complex — not to mention getting the order wrong — is beyond me.
Nobody” by The Doobie Brothers. From the album The Doobie Brothers (1971).
Heh, he said “doobie.”
Both this one and the Steve Miller Band track are taken from Meridian 1970: Protest, Sorrow, Hobos, Folk and Blues, a U.K.-only compilation of songs from that year. More about that here (“a fine compilation that represents a music scene in love with all things rootsy and Americana”).

tom stoppard review

A review of Tom Stoppard’s new play in The New Yorker by John Lahr. (Previously mentioned here.) He admires it in places, but is largely unimpressed, echoing the most common complaint about lesser Stoppard: “[W]e understand the plot points of their lives and their psychologies, but these function more like factors in an intellectual equation than as emotional experience.”

boudin in your car

A Cajun vision of heaven: Fresh boudin, made by a fat man named Tiny, without leaving your car. That’s always been the troubling part, having to leave your car.
My next trip home — which is to say, my next Tour de Boudin — demands the gathering of evidence.
Update: My friend Mary (the author of the linked piece) elaborates: “The boudin is pretty good at House of Meat. But the showstopper’s the red-beans-and-rice balls. Comparable to boudin balls. Tiny rolls up his congealed lunch special from yesterday, rolls it into golf-ball-sized bundles, rolls it in flour and drops it into the deep fryer. Sure to become a new Cajun classic.” Mmmmmmmmmmm.

giant rodents

Unsupportable Theory of the Day: At some point in the next fifty years, a great novel will be written, featuring as its protagonist a specimen of phoberomys pattersoni.
For those who haven’t kept pace with advances in rodent science, Big Phob was a giant rodent that roamed the northern stretches of South America millions of years ago. Picture a guinea pig with a squirrel’s gait — but 1,500 pounds. And 10 feet long. Not counting the additional four feet of tail.
Dude rocked.
See, South America was once silly with these bizarre oversized rodents and other furry creatures straight out of the the minds of six-year-olds. Weird shit like zenarthrans and toxodons and litopternas (a.k.a. the psuedohorse). They had few natural predators, so they evolved into big fat slobs, eating grass and sunning themselves in the Andes. A good life.
Then came the Great American Interchange. That’s when North and South America — after eons apart — were finally joined together at the Panama isthmus.
The north’s big bad carnivores poured across the bridge and found all these tasty fatties ripe for the munching. And while I’d hope a 1,500-pound guinea pig could put up a fight, remember that it hadn’t had to do much but eat grass for many millennia. I can imagine why it didn’t fare well.
But seriously: There’s great drama to be mined out of this, no? It’s essentially the plot of The War of the Worlds — except it really happened and involves fewer New Jerseyans. And I’ve already got the perfect wisecracking sidekick lined up for Big Phob: his surviving cousin dinomys branickii, also known as “Count Branicki’s terrible mouse.”

david lynch’s lumiere

If David Lynch had been born in 1875.
“This is David Lynch’s 55-second short filmed with an original Lumière camera. Forty international directors were asked to make a short film using the original Cinématographe invented by the Lumière Brothers, working under conditions similar to those of 1895. There were three rules: (1) The film could be no longer than 52 seconds; (2) no synchronized sound was permitted; and (3) no more than three takes…Remember while watching that all the effects are in-camera and there is no cutting for scenes.”